The rare beauty and stunning self-possession that propelled Grace Kelly into the Hollywood pantheon, onto the Best-Dressed List, and ultimately to Monaco's royal palace were more than captivating—they were completely genuine. As London's Victoria and Albert Museum unveils an exhibition devoted to Kelly's style, which still inspires fashion from Hermès to Tommy Hilfiger to Mad Men's costumer Janie Bryant, the author looks at the intertwined qualities of an icon: white-gloved ingénue, elegant goddess, passionate—and frankly sexual—romantic.
Grace Patricia Kelly was an American film actress who, after starring in several significant films in the early to mid-1950s, became Princess of Monaco by marrying Prince Rainier III in April 1956.
After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1949, she began appearing in New York City theatrical productions and over 40 live drama productions broadcast in early 1950s Golden Age of Television. Kelly gained stardom from her performance in John Ford's adventure-romance Mogambo, starring Clark Gable and Ava Gardner, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the drama The Country Girl with Bing Crosby. Other notable works include the western High Noon with Gary Cooper, the romance-comedy High Society with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and three consecutive Alfred Hitchcock suspense thrillers: Dial M for Murder with Ray Milland, Rear Window with James Stewart, and To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant.
Kelly retired from acting at age 26 to marry Rainier, and she began her duties as Princess of Monaco. Hitchcock hoped that she would appear in more of his films which required an 'icy blonde' lead actress, but he was unable to coax her out of retirement. The Prince and Princess had three children: Princess Caroline, Prince Albert, and Princess Stéphanie. Princess Grace retained her link to America by her dual U.S. and Monégasque citizenship. Her charity work focused on young children and the arts, establishing the Princess Grace Foundation to support local artisans in 1964. Her organization for children's rights, AMADE Mondiale, gained consultive status within UNICEF and UNESCO. She died aged 52 at Monaco Hospital on September 14, 1982, from the injuries sustained in her car crash the previous day. She is listed 13th among the American Film Institute's 25 Greatest Female Stars of Classical Hollywood Cinema. Her son, Prince Albert, helped establish the Princess Grace Awards in 1984 to recognize emerging performers in film, theater, and dance.
It may be the softest kiss in film history. The sun is setting over West Side rooftops, the sky persimmon. A man, his leg in a cast, sleeps near an open window, undisturbed by a neighbor singing scales. Just after the highest note is reached, a shadow climbs over the man's chest, shoulder, and chin. We see a face: blue eyes, red lips, skin like poured cream, pearls. Then he sees it. The kiss happens in profile, a slow-motion hallucinatory blur somewhere between myth and dream, a limbic level of consciousness. The director, Alfred Hitchcock, liked to say he got the effect by shaking the camera. In truth, this otherworldly kiss comes to us by way of a double printing. Has any muse in cinema been graced with such a perfect cameo portrait of her power?
"How's your leg?" she murmurs. "It hurts a little," Jimmy Stewart answers. Another soft kiss, more teasing questions. "Anything else bothering you?" she asks. "Uh-huh," he says. "Who are you?"
Early life and family The Kelly family home, built by John B. Kelly Sr. in 1929, in East Falls, Philadelphia
Grace Patricia Kelly was born on November 12, 1929, at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to an affluent and influential family. Her father, Irish-American John B. Kelly Sr., had won three Olympic gold medals for sculling, and owned a successful brickwork contracting company that was well known on the East Coast. As Democratic nominee in the 1935 election for Mayor of Philadelphia, he lost by the closest margin in the city's history. In later years he served on the Fairmount Park Commission and, during World War II, was appointed by President Roosevelt as National Director of Physical Fitness. His brother Walter C. Kelly was a vaudeville star, who also made films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount Pictures, and another named George was a Pulitzer Prize–winning dramatist, screenwriter, and director.
Kelly's mother, Margaret Majer, had German parents. Margaret had taught physical education at the University of Pennsylvania and had been the first woman to coach women's athletics at Penn. She also modeled for a time in her youth. After marrying John B. Kelly in 1924, Margaret focused on being a housewife until all her children were of school age, following which she began actively participating in various civic organizations.
Kelly had two older siblings, Margaret and John Jr., and a younger sister, Elizabeth. The children were raised in the Catholic faith.
Kelly grew up in a small, close-knit Catholic community. She was baptized and received her elementary education in the parish of Saint Bridget's in East Falls. Founded in 1853 by Saint John Neumann, the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia, Saint Bridget's was a relatively young parish, with families very familiar with one another. While attending Ravenhill Academy, a reputable Catholic girls' school, Kelly modeled fashions at local charity events with her mother and sisters. In 1942, at the age of 12, she played the lead in Don't Feed the Animals, a play produced by the Old Academy Players also in East Falls. In May 1947, she graduated from Stevens School, a socially prominent private institution in nearby Chestnut Hill, where she participated in drama and dance programs. Her graduation yearbook listed her favorite actress as Ingrid Bergman and her favorite actor as Joseph Cotten. Written in the 'Stevens' Prophec'y section was: 'Miss Grace P. Kelly – a famous star of stage and screen'. Owing to her low mathematics scores, Kelly was rejected by Bennington College in July 1947. Despite her parents' initial disapproval, Kelly decided to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress. Her father was particularly displeased with her decision, as he viewed acting as 'a slim cut above streetwalker' at the time. Career Early years
To start her career, she auditioned for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, using a scene from her uncle George Kelly's The Torch-Bearers . Although the school had already met its semester quota, she obtained an interview with the admissions department, and was admitted through George's influence. Kelly worked diligently, and practiced her speech by using a tape recorder. Her early acting pursuits led her to the stage, and she made her Broadway debut in Strindberg's The Father, alongside Raymond Massey. At 19, her graduation performance was as Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story. Her uncle would continue to advise and mentor Kelly throughout her acting career.
Television producer Delbert Mann cast Kelly as Bethel Merriday in an adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel of the same name; this was her first of nearly sixty live television programs. As a theater personality, she was mentioned in Theatre World magazine as: ' most promising personality of the Broadway stage of 1950.' Some of her well-known works as a theater actress were: The Father, The Rockingham Tea Set, The Apple Tree, The Mirror of Delusion, Episode, among others.
Impressed by her work in The Father, Henry Hathaway, director of the Twentieth Century-Fox film Fourteen Hours, offered her a small role in the film. Kelly had a minor role, opposite Paul Douglas, Richard Basehart, and Barbara Bel Geddes, as a young woman contemplating divorce. Kelly's costar, Paul Douglas, commented of her acting in this film: 'In two senses, she did not have a bad side– you could film her from any angle, and she was one of the most un-temperamental, cooperative people in the business.' Following the release of this film, the 'Grace Kelly Fan Club' was established, gaining popularity across the country with local chapters springing up and attracting many members. Kelly referred to her fan club as 'terrifically amusing'.
Kelly was noticed during a visit to the set of Fourteen Hours by Gary Cooper, who was charmed by her. However, Kelly's performance in Fourteen Hours went largely unnoticed by critics, and did not contribute to her film career's momentum. She continued her work in the theater and on television, although she lacked 'vocal horsepower', and it was regarded she would likely not have had a lengthy stage career. Transition to film
Kelly was performing in Colorado's Elitch Gardens, when producer Stanley Kramer offered her a role co-starring opposite Cooper in Fred Zinnemann's High Noon, a Western set in Columbia, California She accepted the role, and the film was shot in the late summer and early fall of 1951 over a 28-day shooting schedule in hot weather conditions. She was cast as a 'young Quaker bride to Gary Cooper's stoic Marshall', and wore a 'suitably demure vaguely Victorian dress', alongside Cooper, who was 28 years her senior. The movie was released in the summer of 1952. High Noon garnered four Academy Awards, and has since been ranked among the best films of all time. Kelly in High Noon, her first major film role
Despite this, biographer, H. Haughland states: 'Miss Kelly's acting did not excite the critics, or live up to her own expectations.' Some critics scoffed at the conclusion of the film in which Cooper's character has to be saved by Kelly's. One critic argued that her pacifist character, killing a man who is about to shoot her husband, was cold and abstract. Alfred Hitchcock described her performance as 'rather mous'y, and stated that it lacked animation. He said that it was only in her later films that she 'really blossomed' and showed her true star quality.
After filming High Noon, Kelly returned to New York City and took private acting lessons, keen to be taken seriously as an actress. She performed in a few dramas in the theater, and in TV serials. She appeared in several television plays, and screen-tested for the film Taxi in the spring of 1952. Director John Ford noticed Kelly in the screen test, and his studio flew her out to Los Angeles to audition in September 1952. Ford said that Kelly showed 'breeding, quality, and class'. She was given the role, along with a seven-year contract at the relatively low salary of $850 a week. Kelly signed the deal under two conditions: first, that one out of every two years, she had time off to work in the theatre; and second, that she be able to live in New York City at her residence in Manhattan House, at 200 E. 66th Street, now a landmark.
In November 1952, Kelly and the cast arrived in Nairobi to begin the production of the film Mogambo, replacing Gene Tierney, who dropped out at the last minute due to personal issues. Kelly later told Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, 'Mogambo had three things that interested me: John Ford, Clark Gable, and a trip to Africa, with expenses paid. If Mogambo had been made in Arizona, I wouldn't have done it.' Kelly plays Linda Nordley, a contemplative English wife with a romantic interest in Clark Gable's character. Filming took place over the course of three months. The costumes, designed by Helen Rose, were 'safari style', with no feminine-looking outfits used. A break in the filming schedule afforded her and Mogambo co-star Ava Gardner a visit to Rome. The film was released in 1953, and had a successful run at the box office. Kelly won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, and received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Further success and Hitchcock thrillers Kelly in a promotional photograph for Rear Window
After the success of Mogambo, Kelly starred in the television play The Way of an Eagle with Jean-Pierre Aumont, before being cast in the film adaptation of Frederick Knott's Broadway hit Dial M for Murder, opposite Ray Milland and Robert Cummings. In this film, Kelly plays the role of the wealthy wife of a retired professional tennis player. Director Alfred Hitchcock, who had also seen her during her Taxi screen test, would become one of Kelly's mentors during the last years of her career. She was subsequently loaned by MGM to work across several Hitchcock films, which would become some of her most critically acclaimed and recognized work. Kelly began filming scenes for her next film, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, in early 1954, with William Holden, for Paramount Pictures. The story, based on the novel by James Michener, is about American Navy jet fighters stationed to fight in Asia. Kelly plays the role of Holden's wife. Her dress designer was Edith Head, with whom she had established a friendly relationship.
Kelly unhesitatingly turned down the opportunity to star alongside Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront . Eva Marie Saint, who replaced her, went on to win an Academy Award for the role. Instead, she committed to the role of Lisa Fremont in Rear Window. Kelly stated, 'All through the making of Dial M for Murder, he sat and talked to me about Rear Window all the time, even before we had discussed my being in it.'
Kelly's co-star, James Stewart, was highly enthusiastic about working with her. The role of Lisa Fremont, a wealthy Manhattan socialite and fashion model who 'never wore the same dress twice', was unlike any of the previous women she had played. This marked her first performance as an independent career woman. In line with their previous collaborations, Hitchcock provided the camera with a slow-sequenced silhouette of Kelly, along with close-ups of the two stars kissing, finally lingering closely on her profile. Hitchcock brought her elegance to the foreground by changing her dresses many times, including: 'glamorous evening short dresses, a sheer negligee over a sleek nightgown, a full-skirted floral dress, and a casual pair of jeans'. Upon the film's opening in October 1954, Kelly was again praised. Variety's film critic remarked on the casting, commenting on the 'earthy quality to the relationship between Stewart and Miss Kell'y, as 'both do a fine job of the picture's acting demands'. Critical acclaim and final roles
Kelly played the role of Bing Crosby's long-suffering wife, Georgie Elgin, in The Country Girl, after a pregnant Jennifer Jones bowed out. Already familiar with the play, Kelly was highly interested in the part. To do it, MGM would once again have to lend Kelly to Paramount Pictures. Kelly was adamant, and threatened the studio, saying that if they did not allow her to do the film, she would pack her bags and leave for New York for good. MGM eventually relented, and she took the part. Kelly also negotiated a more lucrative contract in light of her recent success. In the film, Kelly plays the wife of a washed-up, alcoholic singer, played by Crosby. Her character becomes torn emotionally between her two lovers, played by Bing Crosby and William Holden. She was again dressed by Edith Head to suit her role in the film, initially dressed in fashionable dresses, shifting to ordinary-looking cardigans toward the end of the film. Kelly at the 28th Academy Awards in 1956
As a result of her performance in The Country Girl, Kelly was nominated for and ultimately won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Her acceptance speech was brief: "The thrill of this moment keeps me from saying what I really feel. I can only say thank you with all my heart to all who made this possible for me. Thank you." Her main competitor was Judy Garland for her performance in A Star Is Born. After receiving the Oscar nomination, Kelly won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best actress for her performances in her three big movie roles of 1954: Rear Window, Dial M For Murder, and The Country Girl. At the Golden Globe Awards in 1955, Kelly won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. Her acclaim continued to grow with each film. The New York Times praised her performance in The Country Girl as 'excellent', and Rear Window got her marquee credits on a par with, and beyond, those of Stewart and Hitchcock.
In April 1954, Kelly flew to Colombia for a 10-day shoot on her next project, Green Fire, with Stewart Granger. She played Catherine Knowland, a coffee plantation owner. Kelly told Hedda Hopper, 'It wasn't pleasant. We worked at a pathetic village – miserable huts and dirty. Part of the crew got shipwrecked ... It was awful.' After the consecutive filming of Rear Window, Toko-Ri, Country Girl, and Green Fire, Kelly flew to the French Riviera to work on her third, and last, film for Hitchcock, To Catch a Thief. Lent to Paramount for the fifth time, Kelly plays the role of a temptress who wears 'luxurious and alluring clothes', while Cary Grant plays the role of a former cat burglar, now looking to catch a 'thief who is imitating him'. Kelly and Grant developed a mutual bond and admiration for one another. Years later, when asked to name his all-time favorite actress, Grant replied: 'Well, with all due respect to dear Ingrid Bergman, I much preferred Grace. She had serenity.'
In 1956, Kelly resided in a home rented from Bill Lear in the Pacific Palisades, California for the duration of her filming. She portrayed Princess Alexandra in the film The Swan, directed by Charles Vidor, opposite Alec Guinness and Louis Jourdan. Her final role was in Charles Walters's musical film High Society, a re-make of the 1940 MGM classic The Philadelphia Story. In the film, she portrayed main character Tracy Lord, opposite Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Celeste Holm. It was released in July 1956. Variety stated: 'Miss Kelly impresses as the femme lead with pleasantly comedienne overtones.', and that it was 'possibly her most relaxed performance.' Marriage Main article: Wedding of Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, and Grace Kelly
Kelly headed the U.S. delegation at the Cannes Film Festival in April 1955. While there, she was invited to participate in a photo session with Prince Rainier III, the sovereign of the Principality of Monaco, at the Prince's Palace, about 55 kilometers away from Cannes. After a series of delays and complications, she met him at the Prince's Palace of Monaco on May 6, 1955.
After a year-long courtship described as containing 'a good deal of rational appraisal on both sides', Prince Rainier married Kelly in 1956. The Napoleonic Code of Monaco and the laws of the Catholic Church necessitated two ceremonies – both a civil ceremony and a religious wedding. The 16-minute civil ceremony took place in the Palace Throne Room of Monaco on April 18, 1956, and a reception later in the day was attended by 3,000 Monégasque citizens. To cap the ceremony, the 142 official titles that she acquired in the union were formally recited. The following day, the church ceremony took place at Monaco's Saint Nicholas Cathedral, presided over by Bishop Gilles Barthe. The wedding was estimated to have been watched by over 30 million viewers on live television and was described by biographer Robert Lacey as 'the first modern event to generate media overkill'. Her wedding dress, designed by MGM's Academy Award-winning Helen Rose, was worked on for six weeks by three dozen seamstresses. The Prince and Princess left that night for their seven-week Mediterranean honeymoon cruise on his yacht, Deo Juvante II. Princess of Monaco The Prince and Princess of Monaco arrive at the White House for a luncheon, 1961
Princess Grace gave birth to the couple's first child, Princess Caroline, on January 23, 1957. Their next child and heir to the throne, Prince Albert, was born March 14, 1958. Their youngest, Princess Stéphanie, was born February 1, 1965.
During her marriage, Grace was unable to continue her acting career. Instead, she performed her daily duties as princess and became involved in philanthropic work. As princess consort, she became the patron of Red Cross of Monaco and Rainbow Coalition Children, an orphanage run by Josephine Baker. She hosted an annual Christmas celebration with presents for orphaned children in Monaco. The Princess also served as president of the Garden Club of Monaco, and president of the organizing committee of the International Arts Foundation.
Grace and her husband visited Ireland on three occasions and in 1976 she purchased her ancestral family homestead in Drimurla near Newport, County Mayo.
Grace founded AMADE Mondiale, a Monaco-based non-profit organization recognized by the UN, after witnessing the plight of Vietnamese children in 1963. According to the UNESCO's website, AMADE promotes and protects the 'moral and physical integrit'y and 'spiritual well-being of children throughout the world, without distinction of race, nationality or religion and in a spirit of complete political independence'. The organization currently has cooperative branches across Europe, Asia, South-America, and Africa, and retains consultive status with UNICEF, UNESCO, and the United Nations Economic and Social Council, as well as participative status with The Council of Europe.
Princess Grace was active in improving the arts institutions of Monaco, forming the Princess Grace Foundation in 1964 to support local artisans. In 1965, she accepted the invitation to be an honorary member of La Leche League, a worldwide mother-to-mother support group that focuses on mothering through breastfeeding. She was a speaker at their 1971 conference in Chicago, addressing 1400 mothers, 800 fathers and 800 babies. Grace was a known advocate of breastfeeding, and successfully fed her 3 children. In 1975, Grace helped found the Princess Grace Academy, the resident school of the Monte Carlo Ballet. She later advocated to preserve the Belle Époque-era architecture of the principality. Grace hosted a yearly American Week in Monaco, where guests would play baseball and eat ice cream. The palace also celebrated American Thanksgiving annually. Princess Grace at the Floriade garden exhibit in 1972
Hitchcock offered Princess Grace the lead in his film Marnie in 1962. She was eager, but public outcry in Monaco against her involvement in a film where she would play a kleptomaniac made her reconsider and ultimately reject the project. Director Herbert Ross tried to interest her in a part in his film The Turning Point, but Rainier dismissed the idea. Later that year, she returned to the arts in a series of poetry readings on stage and narration of the documentary The Children of Theatre Street. She also narrated ABC's made-for-television film The Poppy Is Also a Flower .
She joined the board of the Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation in 1976, becoming one of its first female members. In 1980, Princess Grace published 'My Book of Flowers' with Gwen Robyns, detailing her sense of floral aesthetics, symbolism, and flower pressing. Grace and Rainier worked together in a 33-minute independent film called Rearranged in 1979, which received interest from ABC TV executives in 1982 after premiering in Monaco, on the condition that it be extended to an hour. Before more scenes could be shot, Grace died and the film was never released or shown publicly again.